Off The Bat: Wild Weekend Highlighted By Top-Five Upsets
Easter weekend means that the college baseball action starts a day early, as many series start on Thursday instead of Friday. That extra day made for a wild weekend as about half the teams in the Top 25 lost series this weekend. That shook up just about everything nationally with seven weeks to go until Selection Monday.
Here are 12 thoughts on the weekend that was in college baseball.
1. Miami came into this weekend’s series at Virginia Tech riding a 14-game winning streak. The Hurricanes had just climbed to No. 2 in the Top 25 after sweeping Virginia to take control of the ACC race.
Virginia Tech didn’t care about any of that. In each of the first two games of the series, the Hokies jumped all over the Hurricanes starters and didn’t look back en route to big wins. On Thursday, Virginia Tech knocked out lefthander Carson Palmquist in the fourth inning after scoring six runs on 10 hits. On Friday, the Hokies got to righthander Karson Ligon for nine runs (eight earned) on nine hits and knocked him out in the fourth. It was the shortest start of the season for both Palmquist and Ligon.
With a 12-5 win Thursday and a 13-2 victory Friday, Virginia Tech clinched a marquee series win. Miami won the finale, 8-5, but it couldn’t spoil the weekend for the Hokies (23-9, 9-7). They drew 3,521 fans Friday, the largest regular-season crowd in English Field history, and won a top-five series for the first time in five years. Virginia Tech hasn’t lost a series since the opening weekend of ACC play, when it was swept at Georgia Tech, and on Monday made its season debut in the Top 25 at No. 11.
Virginia Tech stands out the most for its potent offense. Its 76 home runs rank second in the nation, trailing only Tennessee, and it is averaging 9.38 runs per game. The Hokies brought their big bats this weekend against the Hurricanes, especially shortstop Tanner Schobel. He went 7-for-14 with three home runs and scored seven runs on the weekend. Schobel is hitting .370/.458/.717 with 11 home runs on the season and he is one of seven Hokies with an OPS of more than 1.000. With that kind of depth in the lineup, it’s no surprise that Virginia Tech is tough on opposing pitchers.
Against Miami, Virginia Tech showed it isn’t all about its offense, however. Righthander Griffin Green on Thursday delivered a quality start, holding Miami to three runs in six innings. Freshman righthander Drue Hackenberg followed the next day with a gem, holding the Hurricanes to two runs (one earned) in eight innings.
Virginia Tech is still looking for more depth on the mound and it’s now lost three straight series finales. But with Green (5-1, 3.94) and Hackenberg (7-0, 2.21) leading the way and a powerful offense backing the pitching staff, the Hokies stack up well on a weekend.
The Hokies haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2013, but they’re on track to return this year. It’s probably a little early to think about hosting, as they did in 2013, but it’s not off the table. Keeping the momentum rolling this weekend at Boston College will be critical, as Virginia Tech is just 5-5 away from English Field.
2. The series loss for Miami (28-8, 14-4) was its first since it got beat by Florida at the start of March. The good news for the Hurricanes is that their RPI actually ticked up this week and they remain firmly in control of the ACC title race, 3.5 games ahead of Louisville (24-11, 9-6) and North Carolina State (23-11, 10-7).
This doesn’t have to be anything more than a speed bump for Miami. It went on the road to a difficult place to play and lost a series against a quality team. Everything is still in front of it with four ACC series to play.
That doesn’t mean Miami doesn’t come out of this weekend without some questions. Ligon has now given up 13 runs (12 earned) in eight innings over the last two weeks after giving up four runs (three earned) in 22.1 innings over his first four ACC starts. Ligon’s sudden inconsistency combined with fellow starters Palmquist and righthander Alejandro Rosario not typically working deep into games—Palmquist has gone at least six innings just three times in nine starts and Rosario has worked more than five innings just once this season—means that Miami's bullpen is being asked to carry a big load. Against Virginia Tech, the Hurricanes got sucked into the kind of slugfests they’d like to avoid and came up short.
Miami returns home this week and will host Pittsburgh (21-13, 9-8), which is surging and has won four straight series. Still, it’s an opportunity for the Hurricanes to get right at Mark Light Field, where they are 19-4 this season.
3. Tennessee on Tuesday saw its 23-game winning streak come to an end with a 3-2 loss to Tennessee Tech in a game played with wood bats at Double-A Tennessee’s Smokies Stadium. The unique circumstances of that loss made for a strange scene, as the Volunteers’ powerful offense was held to just four hits.
Tennessee’s SEC winning streak then came to an end two nights later. Alabama beat Tennessee, 6-3, in Knoxville on Thursday in a game played under normal college rules. After starting conference play 12-0, an unprecedented start to SEC play, the Volunteers finally took a loss.
Tennessee bounced back the next two days to defeat Alabama, 9-2 and 15-4, to win the series. The offensive explosion was much more in line with what the Volunteers (33-3, 14-1) had shown all season and keeps them No. 1 in the Top 25 for a fourth straight week.
The weekend wasn’t without drama, however. In Friday’s victory, coach Tony Vitello and pitching coach Frank Anderson were both ejected and subsequently suspended. Vitello was hit with a four-game suspension after making contact with an umpire, while Anderson was automatically suspended one game. Vitello will miss the first two games of this weekend’s series against Florida.
For as much noise as there was around the Volunteers this week, the fact that they are 14-1 at the halfway point of SEC play cannot be lost. Their remarkable season rolls on.
4. Texas Christian went into its weekend series against Texas Tech having lost seven of its last 10 games, including back-to-back series against West Virginia and at Texas. That skid made a weekend showdown against the Red Raiders all the more important for the Horned Frogs if they were to stay in the Big 12 race.
TCU got just the response it needed this weekend at Lupton Stadium. The Horned Frogs swept the series, their first sweep of the Red Raiders since joining the Big 12 a decade ago. TCU (24-12, 10-5) is now just a half-game out of first place in the Big 12 and moved into the Top 25 at No. 15.
Both of the first two games of the series were close, tense affairs. In Thursday’s opener, Texas Tech tied the game at four in the top of the seventh, but TCU came back to push ahead in the bottom half of the inning and went on to a 7-4 victory. On Friday, the Horned Frogs opened up a 4-0 lead in the sixth, but the Red Raiders scored three runs in the eighth and ninth innings. They had the bases loaded with one out in the ninth, but closer River Ridings escaped the jam—and not without controversy, as he was initially called for a two-out balk that would have tied the game, only to see the call reversed—and TCU clinched the series. TCU’s win Saturday was more straight forward, as it won 11-3 to complete the sweep.
While there were some tense moments, TCU was in control almost all weekend. Its starting pitchers—Riley Cornelio, Marcelo Perez and Brett Walker—combined to hold Texas Tech to five runs (two earned) in 17.2 innings. Their strong starts set the tone for the weekend, especially as the Horned Frogs scored 11 runs in 14.2 innings off the Red Raiders starters.
Cornelio (3-2, 2.87) has been strong all season for TCU at the front of the rotation. Perez has only moved into the rotation in the last two weeks, however, and Walker (4-2, 4.50) delivered his best start since Opening Weekend. With lefthander Adam Krob sidelined by injury, TCU coach Kirk Saarloos has been looking for the right combination in the rotation. This week, it looked like he found it.
TCU now faces a huge series at No. 2 Oklahoma State this weekend. First place will be on the line, and it won’t be easy for the Horned Frogs, who are 6-7 in road games. But after a momentum-flipping sweep this weekend, TCU can feel good going to Stillwater.
5. Oklahoma State will also carry momentum into this weekend following a series win at West Virginia. Morgantown is always a tough trip for Big 12 teams and the Mountaineers came into the weekend 10-1 at home.
The Cowboys weren’t bothered by the long trip or tough crowd. They won the opener, 2-1, and bounced back from a 5-2 loss Saturday to win the finale, 13-3, in eight innings Sunday. On the weekend, Oklahoma State gave up nine runs on 17 hits.
No. 2 Oklahoma State (26-10, 9-3) has a 3.95 team ERA, the second-best mark in the Big 12, and its pitching staff came up big on the weekend. Righthander Justin Campbell threw seven scoreless innings Friday and righthander Bryce Osmond delivered another quality start Sunday. The Cowboys’ bullpen combined to hold the Mountaineers to three runs in 7.1 innings.
On a weekend when West Virginia stymied the Oklahoma State offense for the first two games of the series, the Cowboys pitching staff stepped up in a big way. They got an assist from the defense, which did not make an error and leads the conference with a .985 fielding percentage.
Oklahoma State is showing that it can beat teams in multiple ways, which should serve it well in a challenging stretch run. That starts this weekend at home against No. 15 TCU.
6. Stanford won an important series at UCLA with big wins Thursday and Saturday, bookended around a close loss Friday night. The Cardinal won the opener, 9-1, and emphatically took the rubber game with an 11-0 victory Saturday. On the weekend, they scored 24 runs against the Bruins, which came into the series second in the nation in team ERA.
Significantly, the offense didn’t all come from Brett Barrera (.360/.423/.604) and Carter Graham (.372/.428/.661, 9 HR), the team’s leading hitters who have done the heavy lifting this season. Braden Montgomery homered in each of the first two games and now is tied with Graham for the team lead. Brock Jones, a Preseason All-American, homered twice in the finale and collected five hits in the series and Drew Bowser went 6-for-14 with two home runs and five runs.
Stanford was expected to have a powerful offense this season, but it hasn’t always come together. The Cardinal rank seventh in the Pac-12 with 6.19 runs per game, but, as this weekend showed, they have a higher ceiling.
Also significantly, No. 6 Stanford (20-11, 11-7) has now gotten through the toughest part of its schedule. The top half of the Pac-12 has fairly well identified itself and the Cardinal have already played all of those teams. Stanford still has its rivalry series against California (18-17, 9-9) and a trip to Utah (20-14-1, 7-8), both of which figure to be tricky, but it’s now played all of its primary competitors for the conference title.
Stanford still needs a strong finishing kick, but after back-to-back series losses a month ago to open Pac-12 play, the Cardinal have found their stride and are now in a strong position to make a run at a conference title and host a regional for the fifth straight season.
7. The Pac-12 is as up for grabs as ever. The top five teams in the standings are all within a game of each other, as the conference passes the halfway mark of the regular season. Oregon (24-11, 10-5), Oregon State (27-7, 10-5) and Stanford (20-11, 11-7) are all surging and while UCLA (24-11, 9-6) slipped this weekend against Stanford, it figures to hang tough with the contenders.
Arizona (24-12, 11-7), however, missed another opportunity this weekend. A week after losing a series at home to last-place Washington State, the Wildcats lost a series at Utah (20-14-1, 7-8). The Utes are no doubt improved this season, but it’s still a series that a team challenging for the conference title should handle. Beyond missing an opportunity to create some separation at the top of the conference, Arizona has seen its RPI slip to 47, pushing it to the outskirts of the hosting race.
The Pac-12 race still has several twists and turns left, but the reigning champs have hit a midseason slump at an inopportune time. Arizona must find a way to pull out of it before this weekend’s rivalry series against Arizona State (18-19, 8-7).
8. Coming off back-to-back ACC series losses, Florida State needed a get-right week in a big way and it absolutely got one. On Tuesday, it shut out rival Florida, 5-0. The Seminoles followed that up with a sweep of Louisville, holding the powerful Cardinals’ offense to just five runs in the first two games before winning the finale, 10-9.
No. 9 Florida State (22-13, 10-8) all of a sudden vaulted back into the mix to host regionals and is right there at the top of a very crowded ACC Atlantic Division.
Most significantly, Florida State got the kind of pitching it is used to from lefthanders Parker Messick and Bryce Hubbart at the front of the rotation. Messick threw 6.2 scoreless innings Thursday, striking out 14, walking none and holding Louisville to five hits. Hubbart followed with a solid start Friday, limiting the Cardinals to one run in 5.2 innings. He struck out six and worked around five hits and two walks. While Ross Dunn recorded just one out in Saturday’s finale, Florida State still was able to get quality work out of the bullpen, and on Tuesday held Florida to two hits in the shutout.
For Florida State to reach its potential, it needs its pitching to put together those kinds of weeks. The Seminoles' 3.93 team ERA is the third best in the ACC and its duo of Messick and Hubbart is as good as any team’s 1-2 punch. When the duo is right, Florida State can compete with any team in the country.
Florida State has another difficult week on tap. No. 17 Georgia Southern visits Tuesday and the Seminoles then travel to Clemson (22-13, 4-10), which just upset Wake Forest, for the weekend. It’s tricky but manageable and they need to put together another solid week to keep building on this week’s momentum.
9. Louisville wasn’t the only ACC contender to take a tough road sweep this weekend. Notre Dame (21-8, 8-7) was swept at Duke (16-20, 6-12), which came into the weekend having not won an ACC series this season.
The Cardinals and Fighting Irish have become as difficult as any teams in the country to figure out. Both teams can compete with anyone at their best—Louisville swept Notre Dame and just last week showed its resolve in a tough series win against North Carolina, while Notre Dame is 5-0 at Florida State and North Carolina State—but equally they have shown they can be tamed.
Perhaps that’s just the nature of the ACC, where only Miami has truly been consistent. No other team in the ACC has a conference winning percentage better than .600 and just about every team seems intent on drifting toward .500. But both Louisville and Notre Dame have higher ceilings and could be problems in the postseason if they’re able to lock in down the stretch.
Notre Dame is in better shape thanks to its top-10 RPI, but it’ll need a solid finishing kick to host regionals for a second straight year and getting swept at Duke is a reminder that nothing can be taken for granted. Louisville, meanwhile, this weekend saw its RPI dip to 43 and it suddenly has a lot of work to do over the next five weeks. The Cardinals need to bounce back in a big way at home this week against Kentucky and North Carolina State.
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10. Just when it looked like Texas had gotten back on track and was ready to make a run at the top of the Big 12 standings, the Longhorns this weekend lost a series at Kansas State. The Wildcats (17-17, 3-9) came into the weekend just 1-8 in Big 12 play, but they won the first two games of the series—scoring the final seven runs in an 8-5 victory Thursday and then holding the Longhorns to three hits in an 8-1 victory Friday.
Texas (26-12, 6-6) bounced back to win Saturday’s finale, 4-2, but the weekend still goes down as a missed opportunity. After winning back-to-back series against Oklahoma and Texas Christian, this series loss leaves Texas fifth in the Big 12. It has now lost three series this season—notably all coming on the road (South Carolina, Texas Tech, Kansas State).
Playing true road games seems to be a problem for Texas, which is just 10-8 on the road and 14-3 at home (it’s also 2-1 in neutral sites). That could be a big deal in the NCAA Tournament. Texas still ranks in the top 10 of RPI and much of its resume strengthens its case to host a regional. But it’s likely going to need to improve on its position in the Big 12 standings to secure a regional at Disch-Falk Field.
The good news for Texas is that of its four remaining Big 12 series, three (Baylor, Oklahoma State and Kansas) are at home. Its only road trip left this season is a tricky one to West Virginia in early May. If home cooking is the key for the Longhorns, they’ll get plenty of Franklin Barbecue, Tacodeli and Flyrite Chicken down the stretch and should be able to turn that into a home regional.
11. In back-to-back weeks, Georgia Southern has taken on the team atop the Sun Belt standings. A week ago, it was a series at Texas State, which the Eagles won. This weekend, it was a home series against rival Georgia State. The Eagles left no doubt this weekend, sweeping the Panthers for the first time since 2002.
Georgia Southern (24-11, 11-4) used late comebacks to win Thursday and Saturday. In the opener, the Eagles fell behind 2-0 in the first inning, but scored three runs in the seventh and eighth innings for a 4-2 victory. In the finale, they fell behind 6-0 in the second inning and were still down 8-4 at the stretch. But they scored six unanswered runs to win, 10-8, marking their largest comeback since 2017. In between, Georgia Southern cruised to an 11-1 victory behind six scoreless innings from righthander Jaylen Paden.
After the sweep, which completed a 4-0 week, Georgia Southern moved into the Top 25 at No. 17. It is the first time the Eagles have been ranked since 2013. They also now are in second place in the Sun Belt, one game behind No. 21 Texas State, and have risen into the top 10 of RPI. There’s still a long way to go this season, but Georgia Southern is firmly on track for its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014 and with a strong finish, it could host a regional for the first time ever.
12. Tennessee’s loss Tuesday and Miami’s loss Thursday meant the longest active winning streak in the country passed to Rutgers. When the Scarlet Knights took the mark over on Thursday, they had won 12 straight games. After a tense sweep of Indiana—Rutgers trailed in the eighth inning of all three games—the streak reached 15 games. Only Tennessee (23 games) and Vanderbilt (18) have had longer winning streaks this spring.
Rutgers (30-6, 11-1) hasn’t lost since March 25, when it split a doubleheader at Penn State. The competition hasn’t been elite—the Scarlet Knights’ opponents in just three of the 15 games have had a winning record (New Jersey Tech, Monmouth and Penn)—but they’ve taken care of business. Rutgers has pushed to the top of the Big Ten standings and currently projects as an NCAA Tournament team.
The schedule, however, is about to stiffen significantly. A series this weekend against Iowa (19-13, 6-3) represents Rutgers’ biggest test yet and series against No. 22 Maryland (29-7, 7-2) and at Michigan (20-15, 6-3) are on tap in May.
The Scarlet Knights a year ago found themselves in a not too dissimilar position. They were coming off back-to-back road series wins against Michigan and Nebraska, putting themselves in the Big Ten race in May. But they faltered down the stretch, losing 10 of their last 14 games to finish 21-23 and in eighth place in the Big Ten. That was a big step for Rutgers, which had not finished better than 10th in the conference standings since joining the Big Ten in 2015. Now, Rutgers is aiming to push it a step forward and make its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2007.
Eight for Omaha
Arkansas, Miami, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Stanford, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia
Picking the field this week was agonizing. Arkansas, Miami, Oklahoma State, Oregon State and Tennessee were all easy calls. The other three spots weren’t quite so simple. Stanford enters the field as the Cardinal now are playing like the top-10 team we expected them to be entering the season. For the final two spots, I’m not ready to quit on Texas and Virginia. The Cavaliers are coming off back-to-back series losses, but their powerful offense and solid pitching staff is a strong combination and I think they can recapture their first-half magic. The Longhorns are a tougher call. Losing a series at Kansas State is a really tough one to swallow. But we’ve also seen how good Texas can be and it has a really high ceiling. That, as well as a top-10 RPI, means the Longhorns are still strongly in the hosting mix and a gaudy record at Disch-Falk Field leads me to keep the Longhorns in the field, but only by the narrowest of margins over the likes of Southern Mississippi or Oregon—my preseason Omaha sleeper.
No. 15 TCU travels to No. 2 Oklahoma State in a first-place showdown. The Cowboys (26-10, 9-3) have a half-game edge on the Horned Frogs (24-12, 10-5) in the Big 12 standings going into this week’s meeting at O’Brate Stadium. Both TCU and Oklahoma State are coming off big weekends—TCU swept Texas Tech and Oklahoma State won a series at West Virginia—and bring plenty of momentum into the weekend. This is TCU’s biggest remaining conference test this season and if it is to win the Big 12 title this season, it needs a strong weekend in Stillwater.
Rivalries add spice to the weekend. Around the country there are a series of exciting rivalries including Mississippi State at Mississippi, Ohio State at Michigan, Arizona State at Arizona and Navy at Army. As is the case every year, the series between Mississippi State (21-16, 6-9) and Ole Miss (21-14, 5-10) carries plenty of intrigue. This year, however, instead of being a matchup of teams vying for the SEC West title, the two teams are at the bottom of the standings, adding extra urgency to the series. Arizona State (18-19, 8-7) and Arizona (24-12, 11-7) also have a lot riding on this weekend. The Wildcats have lost back-to-back series against Washington State and Utah, which has knocked them out of first place in the Pac-12. Getting back on track this weekend is critical.
First place is on the line this weekend in the Southern Conference as Mercer hosts No. 24 Wofford. The Bears (31-5, 6-0) and the Terriers (27-9, 6-0) have both swept the first two weekends of conference play, setting up a huge weekend in Macon. Both teams rank in the top 25 of RPI, putting both on track to reach the NCAA Tournament. But this weekend will be all about the conference title, which Wofford has never won and Mercer last won in 2017.